Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Earthling Chronicles


An article I read recently suggested a few authors to read as examples of good writing; i.e., well-written sentences and paragraphs.  Ray Bradbury was mentioned.  So I picked up The Martian Chronicles and read it. 

Good stuff. 

Imaginative, yet realistic, stuff.  Imaginative in terms of the Martians and the progress of the settlement of Mars.  Realistic in terms of human nature.

The Martian Chronicles covers a period of about 28 years and is really a collection of short stories.  Very few charactes appear in more than one story.  The theme that ties the stories together is the settlement of Mars.  In the background are the mounting international tensions back on Earth, tensions that are exponentially heightened by nuclear armaments.

The settlement of Mars reminds me of the settlement of the West.  The first pioneers pushed into the West and experienced hard times, many of them losing their lives.  But they blazed a trail, and others inevitably followed, and in greater numbers, until the West became settled and "civilized."  So with Mars.  The first few expeditions to Mars end in death at the imaginative hands of Martians with some skills in mental telepathy.  But eventually, not all die who come.  And the population of Mars, growing slow at first, begins to swell.

At its height the population amounts to about 30 cities around the planet, but then the population diminishes to near desolation as the nuclear hostilities curiously draw most of the people back home.

That's the settlement arc.  What are entertaining and fascinating are the individual stories Bradbury tells:
  • of the Martian woman who has specific premonitions of a strange man greeting her from the third planet and calling himself Nathaniel York;
  • of the men of one expedition who cannot get one single Martian to even acknowledge the significance of their arrival, let alone celebrate it;
  • of the priests who come to bring salvation to the Martians;
  • of the maniac who rebuilds Poe's House of Usher on Mars;
  • of the Martians who hunt down a man in order to give him deed to half the planet.
The picture of humanity is a realistic one: people are smart, but often too smart for their own good, and often not smart enough to recognize they carry the seeds of their own destruction within them.

First line: "One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets."

Last line: "The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water...."

My rating (out of 5): 4

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